Gale's View from Westminster
December Oh-My-God-Cron dominates the political stage and the headlines worldwide. In the UK the spread of the virulent new strain of Covid once again sets science against the economy and public health against political interest as indecision remains the order of the day. Not thirty, not fifty but a hundred Tory backbenchers, led by the European Covid Recovery Reform Group of `rebels in search of a cause` defy the whips to vote against` Plan B` restrictive measures designed to “Save the NHS”. Sounds familiar? We have been here before
As news of last year`s illicit Christmas and other`non-parties` in Downing Street, the Treasury, The Department for Education and Conservative Campaign Headquarters is leaked after a year on ice and as Allegra Stratton makes a sorrowful exit from the heart of Government we have to ask where have the whistleblowers and video-hoarders been sheltering these past eleven months? The revelations clearly did not favourably impress an electorate sick and tired of “one rule for them and another rule for us” Johnsonian brand of politics. The Conservative Party managed to hold the Old Bexley and Sidcup seat in the by-election precipitated by the premature death of the well-liked sitting Member James Brokenshire and indeed made so bold as to claim this marginal triumph as a `Labour loss`.
The Opposition certainly did not do well but the schadenfreude was sort-lived as the Party that only a few months ago had stormed the Labour stronghold of Hartlepool in the North East then went down to another Amersham-style crashing defeat to the Liberals in the North Shropshire by election caused by the resignation of Mr. Owen Paterson, if you remember him.
Storm Alwyn brought down power lines and caused chaos in the North and amid scenes reminiscent of the hurricane of 1987 left many homes without power or water for, in some cases, the best part of a fortnight.
Could we be sliding inexorably towards another war? The signs are that nobody in Moscow and certainly not Vlad Putin takes seriously the idea that the United States or even NATO will intervene if the neo-Soviet Union chooses to bite another chunk out of Ukraine or even to swallow that country whole. Putin`s deliberate and successful de-stabilisation of Europe has made the World a very much more dangerous place. Remember Hungary? Or Czechoslovakia? Again, we have been here before
The UK`s Europe negotiator Lord `Jumping Jack` Frost, architect of the deeply-flawed EU Withdrawal Agreement, has resigned leaving a vacuum in the potential Leadership power struggle that is quickly filled by Liz `Darling of the Party` Truss. A headscarf and a tank do not transform Ms. Truss into a Margaret Thatcher but her hostile remarks about the Russian Federation will have further pleased her red wall promoters. Can she handle the Northern Ireland Protocol and resolve `Jumping Jack`s hastily unfinished Article 16 business? Sir Jeffrey Donaldson might well have his doubts.
In the culmination of the first phase of a United States courtroom drama that looks set to run and run Ghislaine Maxwell, the newspaper magnate Robert`s little girl, is found guilty of procuring under-age girls for the pleasure of her late boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein. I am probably the only person in the Western World that does not by now `know` every last detail of this squalid matter and I do not propose, therefore, to venture an opinion save to say, as an outsider, that in The Land of The Free Press, where there is no contempt of court and anyone can be subjected to trial-by-media, it does strike me that the verdict might just have been not entirely surprising . But hey! There is lots more money for lawyers to make and countless people in High Places to be dragged through the mire before the file is closed - so watch this space. Meanwhile it looks as though Ann Sacoolas, the American agent` alleged` to have killed the British teenage motorcyclist Harry Dunn while stationed in England, will not as was reported be engaging in a `remote` trial of the case against her.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the Karaoke Queen of Westminster, Therese Coffey, who also doubles as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions , should have issued her `no snogging under the mistletoe at office parties` edict at the very moment that what inevitably became dubbed by Fleet Street the `Partygate Scandal` was breaking. (Every `scandal` is now a `Something-gate` in the unoriginal world of today`s hacks).
It transpires that while the rest of Britain was languishing under pre-Christmas lockdown last year Wassail and Merriment were the order of the day in Number Ten. Or not. Depending upon who you believe. On the `If it quacks like a duck` barometer of veracity if there was Party food delivered and Party drinks imbibed and Party games played then it was probably a party rather than the `few drinks and some nibbles partaken of by people already in the office at the end of a hard day`s work` line peddled by what now passes for the Downing Street spin machine.
Personally I don`t have too much of a problem with people who are bothering to go into work when most of the rest of Whitehall is swinging the lead – sorry, “working from home” - letting their hair down at the ends of the day. The difficulty is that rather like the Cummings` Specsavers Excursion to County Durham it smacks of the “Don`t do as I do, do as I say” school of Government for which this administration has established an unenviable reputation.
The `Partygate` revelations were exacerbated, of course, by the release of a video also recorded last year and during which the Prime Minister`s beleaguered Press Staffer, Allegra Stratton, was seen participating in a mock Downing Street Press conference and answering `difficult` questions about an alleged office Party in Number Ten. The lady who was despatched to Glasgow in a sort of media exile to Siberia to handle press during the COP 26 Summit found herself in an impossible situation. Once the media spokesperson becomes the story they have to go. And so she left. In tears.
As more `Partygate ` skeletons tumbled out of the cupboard the Cabinet Secretary , Simon Case, was instructed to `look into` events that took place in Conservative Central Office and Number Eleven (The Treasury) and the Education Department and Downing Street Garden in the summer. And just when Mr. Case was getting stuck into the issue it emerged that he, also, might have attended a `non-party` and so he had to recuse himself as well. The matters are now being looked into by a career Civil Service dragon who is reputed to be rather a tough egg and if she finds that Mayor Boris deliberately mis-led the Commons from the Despatch Box then it could be” Come in, Number Ten, your time is up”.
In the interim it is clear that the good burghers of North Shropshire seized the opportunity of the Paterson by-election to stick two fingers up – sorry, “send a clear message” – to the man in the Prime Minister`s socks. To lose one mid-term by-election (Amersham) may have been regarded as a misfortune. To lose two is rather more than carelessness. We ( I remain , and will die, a Tory) were not merely beaten by the Liberal Democrats in Shropshire, we were soundly thrashed. The circumstances certainly were unattractive but to turn a Conservative majority of twenty-four thousand into a healthy Liberal majority on a 34% swing against the Government takes some doing.
Emma Raducan, the teenage tennis champion who won the New York Open, has been named the BBC`s Sports personality of the Year,Max Verstaffen driving for Reb Bull denied Lewis Hamilton (Mercededes) his eighth World Agamionship on yhe final lap of the final Grand Prix race of the season in AbuDhabi, the deaf East Enders star Rose Ayling-Ellis has lifted the 2021 Strictly Come Dancing Glitter Ball, Her Majesty the Queen cancelled her Christmas at Sandringham and spent the `festive season` at Windsor and in a stable not far from Downing Street Romy Iris Charlotte Johnson made her entrance into an increasingly precarious political world.
I have revealed publicly, as is within my gift, that I have written to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a Leadership election within the Conservative Party. That post also carries with it the Prime Ministership at present. I believe that on the present parliamentary arithmetic it requires about fifty-three such letters to trigger a leadership ballot. I have no idea how many, if any, other letters have already been submitted and Sir Graham, who is as tight as a clam, is not likely to let that figure slip unless and until the tipping-point is reached. Who might stand against Mr Johnson should such a situation arise is, of course, not clear: there are a number of names already in the frame but who might actually toss their hats into the ring and who will think better of it remains to be seen.
My own action was not taken as a result of reports of `wine and cheese parties` or any other recent Downing Street shenanigans, nor on the basis of fickle by-election results, but following the decision by the Prime Minister not to dispense with the services of Mr. Dominic Cummings following the latter`s trip to Barnard Castle during the first `lockdown` many months ago. I concluded then, unilaterally and without discussion with any colleagues, that a man capable of such a crass error of judgement might just not be the best person to have his finger on the red button – a possibility that is no longer quite as unlikely as it was until relatively recently. I have `refreshed` my call in the light of recent events to ensure that my original missive remains valid.
Is it the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of the Johnson premiership. 2022 will tell – but it cannot continue as before.
I do not though, for one moment, envy the task faced by the Prime Minister and his scientific advisers in having to determine the level of restriction necessary to impose upon England to contain the Omicron outbreak of the Covid pandemic and to protect the National Health Service from meltdown while at the same time seeking to preserve a tourist, hospitality, entertainment, travel and retail economy already reeling from a disastrous financial year and looking to Christmas trade to keep the bailiffs at bay.
I said three times last year, in March, in September and in November, that Government action was too little and too late to contain the first waves of the pandemic. It would ill-behove me, therefore, to complain this year that the Prime Minister has moved too soon, to hard and too fast. Caught between the rock of the hard-right of the Conservative Party and the hard place of an NHS facing a potential winter crisis I believe that the Prime Minister has called the shots just about right. His task was not made any easier by the fact that North of the Border the `Wee Lassie in the Tin Hat` had, together with her counterparts in Northern Ireland and Wales, opted for a renewed lockdown. Who will be proved right.? The procrastination and indecision in themselves have had a deleterious effect upon travel and hospitality. Pre-Christmas party bookings were cancelled in droves and a nervous clientele has erred on the side of caution and stayed away from bars and restaurants and nightclubs and we may have ended up with the worst of all worlds. How much the relatively relaxed rules in England will actually have helped the economy and at what price in terms of healthcare only time will tell. The real fear is not that the milder Omicron variant will of itself overwhelm the service through hospitalisations but that so many public service staff, including of course doctors and nurses, will be either ill or self-isolating themselves that it may not be possible to keep all services open at all.
In other news Emma Raducanu the teenage tennis champion who won the New York Open, has been named the BBC`s Sports Personality of the Year; Max Verstaffen, driving for Red Bull, has denied Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) his eighth World Championship on the final lap of the final Grand Prix of the Formula One Motor Racing season in Abu Dhabi; the deaf East Enders star Rose Ayling-Ellis has lifted the 2021 Strictly Come Dancing Glitter Ball; Her Majesty The Queen cancelled her family Christmas gathering at Sandringham and instead spent the festive season inside `HMS Bubble` at Windsor Castle from where she delivered a message that paid fulsome tribute to her late husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip; and in a `stable` not far from Downing Street Romy Iris Charlotte Johnson made her entrance into an increasingly precarious political world.
Suzy and I extend to you our heartfelt and optimistic good wishes for a peaceful, healthy and contented New Year.
Prime Minister-in-Waiting Liz Truss, currently the British Foreign Secretary, has been on manoeuvres. Joining British troops on the new Cold War frontline in Estonia she adopted a Thatcheresque pose in a tank, complete with headscarf, for the benefit of the snappers and the folks back home. Note of caution to The Trussette: re-makes are not always good box-office.
Flash! Bang! Wallop! What a better picture was Sir Thomas Hicks, aka the fifties rocker and musical comedy star Tommy Steele, receiving his dubbing from the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, at Windsor. Worth Half a Sixpence of anyone`s money.
If the Salford Broadcasting Corporation`s Christmas programme schedule for 2021 seems curiously familiar that maybe because it is an exact replica of the 2020 schedule! Auntie has always liked to be traditional I know. When I worked on “Blue Peter” the Editrix, Biddy Baxter, would regurgitate the same annual items with the same shooting scripts every year and The Lord help any director who tried to innovate. Biddy at least, God rest her soul, would be delighted to know that old habits are dying hard!
Greene King, the brewers and owner of hostelries of repute, have caused a stir in the market town of Linlithgow North of the Border. “The Black Bitch” public house has been re-named “The Black Hand” in a fit of anti-racist zeal. It seems that GK had overlooked the fact that the black bitch, a canine, also features on the town`s coat of arms.
Motorists in Wokingham, Berkshire, were not best pleased to find £70 parking tickets on their windscreens when they returned to their vehicles. Apparently during the drivers` absence the council had lifted the cars, painted double yellow lines underneath them and then replaced the cars. Eager Traffic Wardens then descended and issued the tickets! A spokesman for the local authority has been quoted as saying that this was “an unfortunate coincidence”.
Kensington`s Science Museum is having to update its “Boy or Girl” exhibition of hormones and chromosomes. The “Who am I”? Section contains no transgender section.
And the Royal College of Midwives has issued an apology having tried to `update` its leaflets to refer to ladies not as `mothers` or `women` but as `post-natal people`.
Those of us who have not been `up West` to take in a live show for a while are in for a shock. Decent stalls seats for “Moulin Rouge” are selling (face value not touts) at £250 each as are tickets for “Harry Potter”. “Lion King” will set you back at £203, “Phantom of the Opera” will let you in for £198 and “Book of Mormon” is a snip at £150. Oh well, it`s back up to The Gods as in our student days.
It is said that Mayor Boris`s cycle lanes, exacerbated by Kubla Khan, have turned London into the most congested city in the developed world according to an INRIX report. We have exchanged moving traffic for a gridlock of idling cars that – guess what! – generate still more air pollution for les bicyclists to pedal through.
A Brexit and Covid-generated labour shortage is leading to 80% of the world`s total daffodil crop remaining unpicked and the Cornish industry is said to be collapsing. 2500 pickers are needed during the first week of January and the pandemic and a lack of response to applicants under the `seasonal workers scheme` have killed off a blooming business.
Port Stanley, the capital of The Falklands Islands, is bidding for city-status in Platinum Jubilee year. The town, which is eight thousand miles from the United Kingdom, has four pubs, three churches and a population of 2460.
Scotland`s railway system is moving from the 19th into the 20th Century. Hitherto travellers from remote stations in The Highlands have been required to `flag diown` trains to get them to stop but in a bold and futuristic gesture to modernisation voyagers from Altanbreac, for example, will now be able to push an electronic button in a kiosk to stop the next incoming train. Not quite the same as the chap with a set of pipes and a kilt and a sporran and a skean dhu summoning the iron carriage for his Laird but progress. Of a sort.
Darkie Lane in Swanage, Dorset (See previous View) is to retain its name. The local council had decided to opt for change having received an objection (one) from a visitor who complained that `Darkie Lane`, in use for getting on for a century because of its gloomy vegetation, had `racist connotations`. The votes of two-thirds of residents required to change the name was not achieved and townsfolk are now demanding to know “how much has this woke nonsense cost local taxpayers”?
Champagne (or `sparkling wine`) is to once again be legally served in pints. The imperial measure was outlawed by the EU in favour of metric measures in 1973. Sante!
And in festive mood the denizens of Whitehall, advised to continue to work from home, are now also being invited back into their offices. For festive season parties!
Arlene Dahl (96) was the film star who played opposite Van Johnson in “The Bride Goes Wild” (1948) before starring in “Journey to the Centre of the Earth “ with James Mason and Pat Boone (1959). She was contracted initially to Warner Brothers shen then joined MGM and made numerous `pot-boilers` for that studio throughout the 1950s.. In 1972 she starred on Broadway in “Applause” and in 1991 she appeared alongside her son who starred in “Night of the Warrior”. Arlene Dahl had six husbands and an affair with a young J.F.Kennedy during his time as a Senator.
Cedric Robinson (88) spent 56 years holding the historic office of the “Queen`s Guide to the Sands”, a title that dates back to Henry V111. Horse dawn carriages used to take a short-cut across the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay and the post, which requires the holder of the office to guide visitors safely across the sands, was originally held by the monks of Cartmel Priory. After the dissolution the responsibility was transferred to the Duchy of Lancaster and Thomas Hogeson was appointed as the first official King`s Guide to The Sands in 1548. Cedric Robinson, known informally as “The Moses of Morecambe Bay”, was appointed as the 25th guide in 1963. He was awarded an MBE in 1999.
David Dalaithngu (68) was the Australian Aboriginal actor who as David Gulpilil first made his name in Nicolas Roeg`s 1973 film “Walkabout”. He went on to appear in “Storm Boy” in 1976, a film for which he won an Australian Film Institute Award Nomination and in 1986 he appeared with Paul Hogan in “Crocodile Dundee”. He then starred in “Rabbit-proof fence” in 2002 and “Australia” with Nicole Kidman in 2008. “Charlie`s Country” (2014) won him a Best Actor Award at Cannes in the Un-Certain Regard jury, Following a screening of “Walkabout” at Buckingham Palace he met The Queen wearing only a loincloth and carrying his spear. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1987.
Sir Peter Thomson (93) was the entrepreneur who led the employee buy-out of the National Freight Corporation during its privatisation under Margaret Thatcher`s Premiership. He was responsible for turning the loss-making company into a commercial success that was listed by the stock market in 1989. He was Chief Executive from 1980, Executive Chairman until 1990 and became President from then until 1993.He was named Businessman of the Year in 1983 and was knighted in 1984.
Sir Anthony Sher (72) was the actor, writer and director who first made his name in “The History Man”. (BBC TV 1981).He won an Evening Standard Award for “Mrs Brown” (1996) and an Olivier Award during his second season at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for his interpretation of Richard 111. He played many leading roles with the RSC, winning a second Oliver Award for “Stanley” in 1997. He was knighted in 2000.
Bob Dole (98) led the Republican mafority in the US Senate, ran for Vice-President in 1976 and for the Presidency in 1980, 1988 and in 1996 when he finally secured the nomination to run against Bill Clinton, the incumbent Democrat to whom he lost. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1997, The American Patriot Award in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2018. His wife, Elizabeth Dole, served as Secretary of Transportation under Ronald Reagan and as Secretary of Labour under George Bush.
The Dowager Duchess of Grafton (101) was the Queen`s most senior Lady-in-Waiting and Mistress of the Robes. She became a Lady of the Bedchamber in the year of the Coronation,1953, and accompanied Her Majesty on a number of significant overseas visits. Trained as a nurse, the Duchess married the Earl of Euston in 1946 and became the Duchess of Grafton in 1970 upon the death of the then Duke. She was appointed a CVO in 1965, a DCVO in 1970 and a GCVO in 1980.
Eileen Ash (110) worked in MI5 during the Second World War and was England`s oldest living Test cricketer. She toured Australia in the 1940s and by way of recognition was eventually afforded honorary Membership of the MCC and allowed to park her Mini in the Chief Executive`s driveway.
Lord (“Bertie”) Denham (94) was Margaret Thatcher`s Chief Whip in the House of Lords. Having taken his seat as a hereditary Peer in 1950 he survived Blair`s cull of Lords and by the time he retired had become the longest-serving member of the Upper House. Awarded a KBE at the end of Thatcher`s premiership he finally stepped down in 1991 after twelve years in office.
Michael Nesmith (78) was the was the guitarist with the 1960s American “Boy Band” The Monkees, manufactured after auditions for `Four insane boys` that attracted hundreds of applicants from across the States. With Mickey Dolenz , Peter Tork and the Mancunian Davy Jones the “Pre-Fab Four” as they were sarcastically known had hits with “Last Train to Clarksville”, “I`m a Believer”, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer”. By the time the group broke up in 1968 they had sold 100 million records.
Lord (Richard) Rogers of Riverside (88) was, with Sir Norman Foster, one of the creators of “High-Tech” architecture. His Pompidou Cenre (The Beaubourg) in Paris, constructed between 1991 and 1997 is now a more popular tourist attraction than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower together He was subsequently knighted in 1991 for the creation of the Lloyds Building in London. As part of the `Team 4` practice which he established with Norman Foster, Su Brumwell and Wendy Cheeseman he was responsible for the Reliance Controls factory (1966) in Swindon. He teamed up with the Italian architect Renzo Piano to bid for the Les Halles car park site in Paris to generate the Pompidou Centre .After this and the Lloyds project Rogers won the contract to design the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg and was then commissioned to create the headquarters of Channel 4 Television. He marked the turn of the century with The Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arenas) and then built the Welsh Senedd (Parliament ) in Cardiff. He was awarded the Sterling Prize for his Terminal 4 building at Barajas Airport in Madrid and in 2007 won the Pritzker Prise (The `Arcchirtectural Nobel) . He received his second Sterling prize for Maggie`s Centre at London`s Charing Cross Hospital and in 2014 opened ”The CheesEgrater” (as it is now known) in the City`s Leadenhall Street. He was made a Life Peer in 1996 and in 2006 became a Companion of Honour.
Sally Ann Howes(91) was Truly Scrumptious opposite Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968 having first starred as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1958. She earned a Tony nomination for “Brigadoon” in in 1963 and appeared in Camelot, The Sound of Music, The King and I and A little Night Music on stage.
Cecilia Robinson (97) played cricket for Kent in thirty matches and captained England on six occasions including during the second ladies tour of Australia in 1958. She was belatedl awarded her Kent County Cap at her home in Folkestone last year.
Peter Pike (84) joined the Labour Party in 1956 and was MP from Burnley from 1983 until 2005. Fiercely anti-apartheid he was also one of the relatively few Labour Members to vote against Blair`s Iraq War .
John Miles (72) was an accomplished musician who worked with Tina Turner and Robert Plant. He also performed on Lead Guitar in a Christmas Special “Supergroup” for the BBC`s Multi Coloured Swap Shop with Leo Sayer on vocals, Suzi Quatro on bass guitar, John Christie on keyboards and the Small Faces ` Kenny Jones on drums. (“Not many people know that”!) He will be best remembered for his 1976 hit “Music”
The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu (90) was the Bishop of Johannesburg who became, in tandem with that post, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996 . His opposition to apartheid earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and ten years later in May 1994 he presented a liberated Nelson Mandela from the balcony of Cape Town`s City Hall as South Africa`s first President elected by a democratic and universal franchise. The man who was the instigator of the “Rainbow Nation” used his position as a cleric to promote the cause of freedom in his country and after Mandela`s election he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. `The Arch`, as he was known in South Africa, became estranged from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Party following Mandela`s retirement and the accession of Jacob Zuma who he regarded as grossly corrupt. He was appointed a companion of Honour in 2015.
Ray Illingworth (89) was the Yorkshire and Leicester all-round cricketer who captained England to regain the ashes in Australia in 1970/71 and retained them in 1972 in a tied series. He was appointed as chairman of the England selectors in 1994 and stepped down in 1997. He was awarded his CBE in 1973.
April Ashley (86) was the model and actress who was one of the first women in Britain to have `gender reassignment surgery`. Born as a male, George, her marriage to the Arthur Corbett, the heir to a Scottish estate, was nullified because a judge ruled that she was “not a woman for the purposes of marriage”. Eventually achieving her rightful status following the passage of the 2005 Gender Recognition Act she was awarded an MBE for services to the transgender community in 2012.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the current Primate of All England and Archbishop of Canterbury, is supporting the re-introduction into the wild of the Red-billed Chough, the bird that “paddled in the blood” of his more famous predecessor, Archbishop Thomas Becket , the `turbulent priest` who was murdered on the steps of the High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th 1170.
The three Choughs feature on the arms of Canterbury City and on the Lord Mayoral insignis (once proudly worn by Alderman Mrs `Bun` Hews who was Suzy`s Granny) The Red-billed Choughs were in danger of becoming as extinct as Becket but the Wildwood British Wildlife Park in my constituency has successfully reared four chicks ( Becket, Eleanor, Vera and Pyrro since you ask) that are now destined to become ambassadors for the breed. Locals are – you guessed it – well-chuffed.
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